My son wanted to go hiking again, and while the calendar says spring and the sun is shining, the wind speeds and temperatures say winter. The weather wasn’t cooperating, so we considered some alternatives. We’ve had an interest in the Belknaps, and since they are an easy 30 minute drive away, we decided to work on those for a while. I already had the AMC Southern NH trail guide, so it was only a matter of driving over to Gilford, NH Public Library and picking up a map which cost $3.00. Between the guide and the map, I was able get a good idea of the area and terrain. We decided to do a loop which would include Gunstock, Belknap and Piper, three of the twelve Belknap summits required for the all-important and motivating (at least to a 12 year-old) Belknap Range hiking patch.
We knew that because it was spring, the Carriage Road off of Belknap Mountain Road in Gilford, NH leading to many upper hiking trails would still be closed. Since our loop started and ended lower on the road, this was not a problem. Parking looked like it would be tight at the gate, but we managed to park facing down and out in order to leave easily. We started up the white blazed Gunstock Mountain Trail not quite knowing what to expect, as this trail is not in the guidebook. We followed the blazes and kept track of elevation as we headed up the trail. The temperature was cool, in the 30’s, but we could hear and feel the wind and were very thankful not to be anywhere higher or exposed. The trail is moderate in grade, getting a little steeper at the top, but nothing really steep or even terribly difficult. In just over 1.1 miles we popped out of the woods right behind the ski patrol hut near the top of the ski lifts on top of Gunstock Mt. After checking out the area, and getting a few photos, we took a right and ducked back into the woods on the Brook trail, blazed in yellow, toward our next destination, Belknap Mt.
Belknap has a firetower with 360 degree views, so it was hopefully going to be the highpoint of the day in more ways than one. The distance between Belknap and Gunstock is only .7 miles and very easy walking with microspikes on the compacted snow. The only difficult part of the entire hike was to watch carefully for the frozen postholes so that we wouldn’t turn an ankle in one of them. We used portions of three different trails to get to Belknap, the Brook Trail in yellow blazes, the Saddle Trail in white blazes and finally the Blue Trail in blue blazes. We got to the fire tower, suited up in extra jackets and up we went. It had been windy all day, but up in the tower it was really windy! It was so cold and windy that Cameron’s camera did not want to work. That was too bad, since we could see Mt. Washington in the distance. As a solution to this problem, I went back down, grabbed the iPhone and weather device and headed back up. Poor Cameron was really cold, so after a few photos and getting some weather data (steady wind in the 20’s with higher gusts and windchill in the single digits), we headed down the tower.
We then started the hike over to our last destination for the day, Piper Mt. To get to Piper, we again used a variety of trails, the White Trail with white blazes and the Old Piper Trail with orange blazes. Coming down some ledges on the White Trail, we saw a couple of faces that I recognized from photos, Ed ‘n Lauky. It was fun to finally meet them after reading Ed’s posts for quite a while on VFTT. Lauky was even more adorable in person than in photos. He looks like a brown fuzzy teddy bear and is a well-behaved, friendly dog. After a chat, we were on our way to Piper, headed down into a col and then back up to the summit ledges. At the summit, we found two “thrones” or one recliner and one loveseat made out of stone, perfect for taking a break, eating lunch and enjoying the view to the rest of the Belknaps. We decided to take a quick side trip to the south summit of Piper, so we headed a few tenths over more ledges on the Whiteface-Piper link blazed in green to check out the other views. That done, we headed back and down yet another trail, this time the Piper Mt. Trail blazed in red back to the Carriage Road, just a few minutes from the parking area.
We had a great day exploring some trails we’d never been on. It was fun to experience a trail for the first time and take in new terrain and new sights. We felt the hiking in the Belknaps is pretty easy and the trails are for the most part, well marked and easy to follow. Cameron was especially impressed with the views since he thought there wouldn’t be for such small mountains. With the exception of maybe just a teeny, tiny, little bit less wind, we couldn’t have been blessed with better day!